Did the Pentagon just officially declare a new Cold War with both China and Russia while also committing to wage endless wars around the globe? Apparently, yes—that was the central message of the Trump administration’s newly released National Defense Strategy, which, as Andrew Bacevich noted, offers no strategy and isn’t about defense. More than anything else, the document is another salvo in the push for a massive and costly military buildup.
“We are facing,” the NDS declared, “increased global disorder…creating a security environment more complex and volatile than any we have experienced in recent memory.” That may read as correct to you, but the Pentagon isn’t talking about catastrophic climate change, debilitating inequality, or the destabilizing flows and misery of millions of displaced refugees.
No, the NDS focus is the threat of Cold War adversaries. As Defense Secretary Jim Mattis put it in presenting the document, “[W]e will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists that we are engaged in today, but Great Power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security.”
China and Russia are described as “revisionist powers” posing a genuine threat to the world: “[They] want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model—gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic, and security decisions,” the NDS said.
Russia, a decrepit and aging petrostate, isn’t a model for anyone. Its truculence comes in no small part in reaction to our relentless push to extend NATO to its very borders, despite pledges not to do so. China, in contrast, is already a global economic power, offering a model of authoritarian, mercantilist state capitalism. US global corporations and our trade policies fueled its rise, helping it become the world’s manufacturing center. Its influence will inevitably expand; it has the money.
There are not military solutions to these issues, but nonetheless the NDS asserted that these two megapowers, along with Iran and North Korea, will seek to subvert us, using “corruption, predatory economic practices, propaganda, political subversion, proxies, and the threat or use of military force to change facts on the ground. Some are particularly adept at exploiting their economic relationships with many of our security partners.”
As if tackling two superpowers wasn’t enough, the Defense Department also plans to counter rogue regimes, “defeat terrorist threats to the United States, and consolidate our gains [sic] in Iraq and Afghanistan while moving to a more resource-sustainable approach.” The military will also sustain “favorable regional balances of power in the Indo-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, and the Western Hemisphere,” and “address significant terrorist threats in Africa.”